An itchy face can be extremely uncomfortable and seem to come out of nowhere. But having an occasionally itchy face isn’t unusual, and there are ways to treat it to get relief.
Read on to find out what conditions cause the skin on your face to itch and how to treat them.
Common causes of itching (also known as pruritus) include dry skin, seasonal allergies, and skin contact with an irritant.
Antibiotics, antifungal, and narcotic pain medications sometimes lead to an itchy face as a side effect.
Less often, an itchy face stems from an internal condition, such as liver disease, thyroid conditions, cancer, or multiple sclerosis. Nutritional deficiencies, such as iron deficiency, can also cause itching.
Identifying other symptoms that occur along with your itchy face might help to diagnose the cause. Here are five specific scenarios for having an itchy face and their most common causes.
Itchy face with a rash
If you have an itchy face along with a rash or hives, or contact dermatitis, you may be having an allergic reaction. In an allergic reaction, your immune system responds to something you’ve come into contact with.
Itching and rash can also be caused by your skin coming into contact with an irritant (without causing your immune system to react), like cleaning chemicals, certain soaps, or some foods.
You could also be experiencing a heat rash.
Itchy face without a rash
An itchy face without a rash can seem like a bit of a mystery. Looking to other symptoms can help you figure out where the itch is coming from:
- If you have an itchy face, no rash, but are experiencing trouble breathing, have a yellowish tinge to your eyes, enlarged glands, and dehydration, you should see your doctor right away. These symptoms could indicate liver problems, jaundice, or Hodgkin’s disease.
- If you have an itchy face, no rash, and no other major symptoms:
- You may be iron deficient. (If iron deficiency anemia intensifies, symptoms can become more prominent.)
- You may be having a mild allergic reaction to something new in your environment.
- You may have the most common cause of an itchy face: dry skin.
- You may be sensitive to the water in your bath or shower. For instance, hard water (water that has a high mineral count) can dry out your skin. You might be able to tell if you have hard water: look for signs of white build-up (mineral deposits) on sink and shower faucets.
Itchy face with pimples
Acne bumps sometimes cause itching — and itching your acne may spread bacteria and as a result more acne over your face. Itchy pimples can be influenced by sweating, cosmetics, clogged pores, or hormones.
If your face itches and you also have pimples or cysts, you may have acne vulgaris (regular acne) or cystic acne, which is worth talking to a doctor about for the most effective treatments.
Itchy face while pregnant
Developing an itchy face because of your pregnancy is somewhat rare, but it does happen.
While itching on your body and your baby bump is common during pregnancy, excessive itching on your face and on your hands and feet could be a symptom of a condition called obstetric cholestasis.
This condition comes without a rash. It also brings symptoms of dark urine and pale bowel movements. Obstetric cholestasis typically crops up around 30 weeks of pregnancy.
It needs to be diagnosed and addressed, so speak to your doctor right away if you have anything beyond mild itching during pregnancy.
A neuropathic face itch is caused by the sensors in your face detecting an irritant where one is not present. This is known as a type of sensory hallucination.
Sometimes neurological health conditions, like shingles and multiple sclerosis, can contribute to this feeling of itching.
The treatment for your itchy face will vary depending on what’s causing it. Your doctor will most likely first advise you to stop scratching the skin, as that can further irritate the epidermis and make the condition worsen.
In some cases, itching your face too much can lead to a broken skin barrier that could develop into an infection.
Here are some home remedies for an itchy face:
- When you feel the itching begin, apply a cool washcloth or a cold compress to your face to calm the itch instead of scratching it.
- You can also try wiping your face with a wet cloth or washing your face. If the cause is a contact irritant, this may clean it off.
- Remove yourself from any stressful situation you are in until the itching subsides. Stress can make itching worse.
- Take a lukewarm bath and splash your face with cool, clean water without using any soap.
- Purchase an over-the-counter antihistamine cream that’s safe to use on your face. Make sure to avoid the area around your eyes when applying an antihistamine. If symptoms worsen after using an antihistamine, discontinue use and contact your doctor right away.
- Consider using an over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or a soothing topical lotion like calamine.
Your doctor may also have prescriptions and lifestyle changes to recommend for your itchy face. Commonly prescribed treatments, depending on the cause of an itchy face, include:
- prescription strength hydrocortisone or antihistamine creams
- calcineurin inhibitors (immunosuppresants that don’t contain steroids)
- antidepressants/selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- phototherapy (light therapy)
Start with the basics for skin care:
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Wash your face with a mild face wash.
- Use a non-pore-clogging facial moisturizer. There are many on the market made for sensitive skin.
You can invest in a gentle, hypoallergenic skincare routine that you can follow every day. Use face creams that aren’t chemically dyed or scented. The drier your skin, the more often you should moisturize it.
Certainly, avoid substances, ingredients, or materials that irritate your skin. This can include perfumed soap or detergent, some metals in jewelry (such as nickel), and cleaning products.
Check the ingredients list of your cosmetics to make sure you’re not exposing your face to harsh chemicals or things you are sensitive to.
And if your cosmetics are older than 6 to 12 months, consider replacing them.
During the colder months, forced air heating can make your skin drier. Consider using a humidifier to keep your skin from getting drier.
Also consider changing the temperature of your shower. While hot showers can feel invigorating, lukewarm or cool water is ideal for protecting the moisture levels in your skin.
See your doctor if the itching on your face:
- persists for more than two weeks even with the use of home remedies and over-the-counter creams
- is accompanied by other symptoms such as extreme fatigue, weight loss, or persistent fever
- distracts or inhibits your daily life because it is so uncomfortable and aggravating
- results in broken skin that looks like it could become (or has become) infected
When you talk to a doctor or dermatologist about your itchy face, you might be asked for a list of medications or supplements that you take. Keeping a daily journal for a few days before your appointment is a good idea. You can note:
- your activities
- anxiety/stress levels
- any other factors that you feel could be significant
Your doctor may need to do tests to figure out what’s causing your face to itch:
- A chest X-ray may be performed to rule out cardiovascular conditions.
- A skin biopsy may be prescribed so that your doctor can test the health of your different skin layers and see how your skin looks on a cellular level.
- Your doctor may also order blood tests to see if there is a nutritional deficiency or unknown allergy at play.
As hard as it can be, the best treatment for an itchy face is to leave it alone and resist the urge to scratch it.
Most cases of itchy skin can be treated with a cold compress or a cool shower and won’t come back if you avoid whatever triggered your reaction.
A daily cleaning and moisturizing routine can also keep itchy face symptoms at bay.
If the itching is accompanied by other symptoms and doesn’t go away, call a doctor or dermatologist to make sure there’s no other health condition causing your face to itch.